Love Is Simple | Review

Brian Rademaekers | Star Home News, Northeast Times

listening to Love is Simple is itself a lesson in musical complexity

It has been popular of late to refer to Philadelphia as "the sixth borough" of New York City. If we must laugh along and feed the Big Apple’s ego, there really is just one sister borough there that gives us a run for our money when it comes to cranking out stellar, freaky indie music. That would be Brooklyn — a chunk of land home to well over two million people, a higher than average proportion of them musicians in search of cheaper-than-Manhattan rents. Much like Northern Liberties, Fishtown and Kensington, Brooklyn appeals to the kind of rootless artistic riff-raff who want the perks of urban life without the steep cost-of-living. Last Wednesday, Johnny Brenda’s hosted Oakley Hall, a longhaired troupe from Brooklyn who put on a mesmerizing set that called to mind a neo-psychedelic Fairport Convention, Yankee style. They were just one of many ensembles who recently have been taking the two-hour trip south from the borough to play at Philly venues. And increasingly, the oft-bearded bands that come out of Brooklyn seem to have a whacked-out, folksy sound that merges rock experimentation with American roots music. One such Brooklyn band that will be in town next Wednesday is Akron/Family, a (bearded) four-piece pushing a newly released album, Love is Simple. While it’s a bit hard to trust anybody naïve enough to string together those three words, listening to Love is Simple is itself a lesson in musical complexity. And somehow in the swirl of it all, it’s also a sublime lesson in musical aesthetic. The first track, Love, Love, Love (everyone), is a nostalgically happy-hippy number reminiscent of What the World Needs Now. But by the time the second track hits the speakers, you know you’re in for far more than a throwback to a 1960s lovefest. Spanning more than seven minutes (as do a number of songs on the 11-track album), Ed is a Portal starts out as a Native American-style fireside chant and slowly melts in and out of banjo-plucking, electronic-beat madness and acid-drenched mysticism. Presumably, at least one of those sound shifts has something to do with coming and going through the portal that is Ed. And while it is quite a lot of sound-shifting, the transitions are smooth and oddly wonderful. The pattern of songs on Love is Simple is one where accessible, pop-oriented arrangements are put alongside wildly experimental diversions through collected sound samples, electronica and guitar freakouts. In some cases — like Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music for Moms — the juxtaposition takes place within the same track. The propensity to take listeners into unexpected places at a moment’s notice does make Akron/Family a band to approach with an open mind. Those expecting songs with neatly defined beginnings, endings, and a contained sonic theme will likely end up disoriented. Some recordings, like Phenomena, are lyrically bizarre but maintain a straightforward indie-rock structure. At the other end of the spectrum, numbers like There’s So Many Colors, with its more than eight minutes of wandering madness and derangement, don’t even try to stay on the map. But for those willing to let go of traditional pop music structures, Akron/Family can provide a surreal and thrilling journey through experimental folk rock. Given the unbridled and eccentric jams and sound collages captured on their latest work, due out next Tuesday, the four-piece also promises a spectacular live act. The strangely beautiful and sacred backdrop of the First Unitarian Church won’t hurt either, setting the stage for a Wednesday night of psychedelic folk-rock revival. Taking the stage before Akron/Family will be Greg Davis, a one-man band from Burlington, Vt., who blends acoustic guitar with shimmering synthesizer. •• What you need to know Who: Akron/Family What: Mesmerizing experimental folk rock out of Brooklyn. Where: The First Unitarian Church, 22nd and Chestnut streets. When: Wednesday, Sept. 19. Doors open at 7:30; tickets are $10